Frequently asked questions
I don’t have a spare room – can I foster?
Most fostering services require you to have a spare bedroom, to ensure the child you foster has the privacy and space they require. The exception is babies who can usually share a foster carer’s bedroom up to a certain age (usually around 12-18 months) .In England, the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services 2011 state that each foster child over the age of three should have their own bedroom )although exceptions may be possible).
If you are short of space, you may wish to consider respite care. Also known as 'short-break' or 'shared care', this covers a variety of different types of part-time care. You could have a child to stay for a few hours or a day each week, giving their own family or their full time foster carers a break.
Will a police record stop me from fostering?
Not necessarily. The law states that the only criminal convictions that prevent people from fostering are those that relate to an offence against children or a sexual offence. Minor offences should not count against you in your application to foster. All criminal convictions will need to be disclosed when you first apply to foster as the application process to become a foster carer includes an enhanced criminal record bureau check.
Can single people foster?
Yes. Anyone can apply to foster regardless of whether they are single, married or living with a partner. Also, regardless of whether you have your own children or not, whether you live in your own home or rent, whatever your race, religion or sexuality.
How long does the application process take?
When you apply to foster, you will be assigned a social worker who will support you throughout the process and carry out a thorough assessment. During this time you will be provided with training known as ‘pre-approval’ training’ by the fostering service.
The social worker will send a report to a fostering panel. The fostering panel will make a recommendation to the fostering service whether you are suitable to foster, and the fostering service decides whether to approve you or not. The assessment, training and approval process should take around takes around six months, but can take longer. In England, the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services 2011 state that the suitability of a prospective foster carer must be decided upon within eight months of their application to foster.
Is there a maximum or minimum age to becoming foster carer?
There is no legal minimum age to become a foster carer although some fostering services have their own minimum age policy such as over 21. There is an expectation that foster carers will have sufficient life experience to enable them to meet the needs of children placed with them, and age can be a factor in this.
There is also no official upper age limit on foster care and many older people make excellent carers, providing they are able to look after a child or young person. They bring a wealth of skills and experience to the task and many young people find it easier to relate to an older person.
What is the difference between a Local Authority fostering service and an Independent Fostering Provider?
Local authorities (Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland) are the local public authorities for each area. Each local authority/Health Trust usually has their own fostering service. In addition, there are numerous independent fostering providers. These may be run by charities or private companies, and they provide foster placements for local authorities/Health Trusts.
Children come into the care of the local authority/Health Trust where they live. That local authority/Health Trust will then place the child in the most appropriate placement (foster care, residential care or other arrangement). When seeking the most appropriate placement, the local authority will look for available placements within their own fostering service and with independent fostering providers.
You may choose to foster either for a local authority (Health Trust) or an independent fostering provider (agency). It is worth doing some research before deciding who you wish to apply to. To find a fostering service in your area, visit www.fostering.net/providers.
Do you need specific qualifications to foster?
No. Once approved foster carers are supported to achieve the Children’s Workforce Development Council’s (CWDC) Training, Support and Development Standards for Foster Care. Information about these standards is available on the CWDC’s website at www.cwdcouncil.org.uk/foster-care/standards.
Can I foster if I have pets?
Having pets does not prevent you from fostering, in fact they can be an asset to a foster family. However, every animal is different and your pets will be assessed as part of the process of becoming a foster carer, taking into account factors such as their temperament and behaviour. As a pet owner, you also need to think about how you would feel and react if one of your pets was injured by a child.
Do I have to be a British citizen in order to become a foster carer?
There is no requirement to be a British citizen to be a foster carer in the UK. Children from a wide range of backgrounds need foster families leading to a need for foster families from all walks of life. If you are in the UK for a limited time, fostering services will take this into consideration due to the time and cost implications of approving people to foster.
I live outside the UK, can I foster?
In general, you cannot apply to become a foster carer with a UK-based fostering service if you are living outside the UK. There are exceptions to this including family and friends foster carers looking after a specific child and British Armed Forces families who are posted overseas. You may wish to apply to become a foster carer in the country in which you are resident. For more information about fostering overseas, please see the International Foster Care Organisation (IFCO) website.
I’m moving house soon, can I apply to foster before I move?
It is unlikely that a fostering service would begin the approval process if you are moving as your home forms an important part of your assessment. You must be able to demonstrate that you can provide a suitable and safe environment for children before you can become a foster carer.
I have suffered from depression in the past, will that prevent me from fostering?
Past mental illness is not a bar to becoming a foster carer, in fact there is no diagnosis that can automatically prevent you fostering. However you would need to discuss this with any fostering service that you applied to. A medical report is always sought as part of the assessment process, and you would also need to consider the impact that the emotional side of fostering could have on your mental health.
Can you foster if you have a long-term health condition?
Your health will be considered when applying to foster and any long-term conditions taken into account. The most important factor is whether you are physically and psychologically fit enough to cope with the demands of caring for a child – this may vary depending on the age of the children that you are approved for.
Do you have to speak English to a high standard to be a foster carer?
A large number of children in foster care do not have English as a first language and being placed in a home where their first language is spoken can be very beneficial for them. You will need an adequate level of spoken and written English to be able to communicate with professionals, support children’s education and to make notes and keep records. If you have any particular communication needs, a fostering service should be willing to discuss this with you.
We are a religious family, will this affect our application to foster?
It does not matter what your religion is and this should not affect your application to foster. Children should be placed with foster families that can meet their needs, including religious needs. However you would also need to consider, if a child was placed with you that did not share your religion, how you would feel about discussing issues such as alternative religious belief or sexuality, ensuring that you abide by the fostering service’s policies.
I have heard that I can’t become a foster carer because I smoke, is that true?
Most fostering services have their own policies in relation to smoking which take into account the impact on the health of any children that will be placed with you and also the importance of foster carers as role models for young people in care. This may mean that prospective foster carers who smoke are given support to stop smoking or that they will be unlikely to be able to foster certain groups such as children under five and those with certain health conditions. It is important that you discuss this with any fostering service that you wish to foster for to make sure that you are aware of their policy.
Can I become a foster carer if one of my own children has disabilities?
You can apply to become a foster carer if one of your children has a disability. The fostering service that you apply to will want to discuss with you how you would balance to the needs of any children that are placed with you with the needs of your own child and what the impact could be on your own child of having other children in their home.
What is the difference between Adoption and Fostering?
It is important to highlight that fostering is very different to adoption and so you will need to think very carefully whether it is fostering a child or adopting a child that you would like to do. Fostering is a way of offering children and young people a home while their own family is unable to look after them. Fostering is often a temporary arrangement, and many fostered children return to their own families. Children who cannot return home but still want to stay in touch with their families often live in long-term foster care. Foster carers never have parental responsibility for a child that they care for. Adoption is a way of providing a new family for children who cannot be brought up by their own parents. It's a legal procedure in which all the parental responsibility is transferred to the adopters. Once an adoption order has been granted it can't be reversed except in extremely rare circumstances. An adopted child loses all legal ties with their first mother and father (the "birth parents") and becomes a full member of the new family, usually taking the family's name.
Are foster carers paid?
All foster carers receive a weekly fostering allowance which is intended to cover the costs of looking after a child in foster care, such as clothing, food and pocket money. Each fostering service sets its own allowance levels, and the amount varies depending on the age of the child.
The Fostering Network publishes a weekly recommended minimum allowance for fostering in the UK and encourages fostering services to pay allowances to all carers at these rates and above. The government in England also publishes recommended minimum allowance rates each year. More information is available on our website www.fostering.net/resources/statistics/recommended-minimum-allowances
Some fostering services also pay their foster carers a fee on top of the allowance, in recognition of their time, skills and experience.
As both allowances and fees are set locally, you should check that the fostering service you might work for offers allowances which will cover the full costs of looking after a child and not leave you out of pocket. You can also enquire about the fees on offer, which are likely to vary depending on the type of fostering you are approved for.
Do foster carers pay tax and national insurance?
Foster carers are treated as self-employed for tax purposes. There is a simplified income tax scheme for foster carers, sometimes referred to as ‘foster care relief’; from April 2010 onwards it will be called ‘qualifying care relief’. The scheme uses an income threshold to determine how much tax, if any, is due.
Anyone who is self employed must register to pay Class 2 National Insurance Contributions. Where foster care is the only source of self employed income and taxable profit is low, a foster carer may apply for the Small Earnings Exception.
Further information about tax and national insurance is available on HM Review and Customs website at www.hmrc.gov.uk/helpsheets/hs236.pdf
How will fostering impact on my welfare benefits?
If you currently claim welfare benefits you are likely to be able to continue to claim while fostering. Foster carers are approved rather than employed, and this status has a particular effect on means tested benefits. In the main, fostering payments when a child is placed with a foster carer are disregarded when calculating welfare benefits, additionally foster carers may be able to claim working tax credit.
I work full-time. Can I still foster?
A fostering service may have their own policy regarding foster carers working, but it is often possible to work part-time particularly if caring for school-age children, and depending on the needs and age of children it may be possible to work full-time. Foster carers are expected to be available to care for children, attend meetings, training, support groups, and to promote and support contact between a child and their family. Fostering services would not usually consider it appropriate for a fostered child to be in full-time day care while their foster carer works.
If you plan to work full-time in jobs other than fostering, you may wish to look into ‘part-time’ types of foster care, such as respite care. Also known as 'short-break' or 'shared care', this covers a variety of different types of part-time care. You might have a child to stay for anything from a few hours each week to a couple of weekends each month, giving their own family or their full time foster carers a break.
Can I foster if I have previously had financial problems?
Previous financial problems should not prevent you from fostering. You will need to be able to show that you are now financially secure enough to provide a stable home for any children that are placed with you, and that you are able to manage the fostering allowances paid to you.
Being a foster carer
How will fostering affect my children?
Fostering involves the whole family and will affect your children. The children of foster carers play a key role in the fostering household and should be included at all stages of the fostering process. It can be tough for children who find themselves sharing their parents with children who have led very different lives. However, many children also say that they have enjoyed their parents’ fostering and learnt a lot from it.
Foster carers say it is important you continue to make time for your own children and ensure that they still feel they are special to you. Research suggests that it is preferable to have a reasonable age gap – either way – between your children and those you foster. Some fostering services run groups that support sons and daughters of foster carers. You can find a list of these on our website www.fostering.net/sons-and-daughters
Will I have a say in who I foster?
As part of the assessment to become a foster carer, it is usual to have discussions about the appropriate age range, the number of children you will be approved to foster, and any other considerations. Ideally all placements of children will be well-matched and planned, but ultimately a foster carer has the right to turn down placements.
What if we don’t get on with the children?
It is inevitable that, as foster carers, there will be some children who you find fit in better with your family. Some children will also take time to adjust to living in your home. However, if there is a real problem with a child, then it is important to discuss this with your social worker. You may find if things are not working out for you, then the child will also be feeling that this is not the right place for them.
It may be that with extra support or training, caring for that child or young person becomes easier and more enjoyable. However, sometimes, it may be best for a child to move to another foster family.
How many children can I foster?
In England, the law states that you can only have three children in a foster placement at one time, (although this does not apply to sibling groups). If a foster carer has more than three children placed their local authority must agree to an exemption to the ‘usual fostering limit’ of three children. In Scotland, there is no upper limit.
If you are interested in caring for larger groups of children, you may wish to look into the possibility of setting up a children’s residential home. For more information contact the Independent Children's Homes Association.